In what has become as much a February tradition as Valentine’s Day, CSU head football coach Sonny Lubick assessed another strong recruiting class Wednesday at the Fum McGraw Athletic Center, discussing his incoming class with media on National Signing Day.
Twenty-one incoming student-athletes signed letters of intent Wednesday to officially become CSU Rams. One more is expected to sign this week.
Lubick said he was pleased not only with his recruits, but with the coaching staff’s effort to get them to Fort Collins.
“I think we’ve upgraded our football team,” said Lubick, who will begin his 11th season as the Rams’ head coach in the fall. “We know we’re not going backward; we’re going forward as a program. Our standards have gotten higher each year and I feel really good about this class. They’re all good kids.”
CSU coaches feel this year’s class filled all of the team’s needs, namely defensive line and linebacker.
“It was one of those years where we were just real fortunate to get almost everyone we wanted,” said John Benton, the Rams’ co-offensive coordinator. “Top to bottom, this is as solid (of a class) as they come.”
Of the incoming players, Lubick spoke most prominently about four student-athletes: running back Adam Gabriel, linebacker Zack Morse, and defensive linemen Erik Sandie and Blake Smith.
“We got lucky with Blake Smith and Erik Sandie,” Lubick said. “I feel very fortunate and very excited that those two will be joining our program.”
Sandie stands 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, and was an all-state performer from Concord, Calif., where he played both sides of the line for De La Salle Catholic High. His high school team went undefeated, having not lost a game since 1991 and winning national championships the past three seasons.
Smith, a 6-2, 245-pound defensive lineman from Tulsa, Okla., was the Oklahoma Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 and was listed as one of the top 10 prospects in the state as a senior.
Gabriel, a running back from Monrovia, Calif., was one of the few players Lubick said could see immediate duty in a suddenly sparse Rams backfield.
Benton called Morse and defensive lineman Jesse Nading, a standout from ThunderRidge High in Highlands Ranch, Colo., two of the best recruits from Colorado.
“There’s not two better kids in the country as far as what they do and all their potential,” Benton said.
Signing Morse (6-3, 225) was easier for the Rams after several schools were scared off by a knee injury Morse suffered during his senior year as a linebacker at Littleton’s Dakota Ridge High.
The Rams also added two younger brothers to their football family. Nathan Pauly, whose older brother Eric will be a starting senior linebacker for the Rams this fall, signed to come to Fort Collins, as did Bob Vomhof, whose older brother Mike is a defensive lineman recovering from a knee injury.
The main emphasis of this year’s recruiting class was defense and the numbers back up that claim. Lubick said 13 or 14 of the 21 recruits will play on the defensive side of the ball, with several players capable of playing several different positions on offense and defense.
Perhaps the most impressive note of this year’s recruiting class is the number of state defensive players of the year who signed with the Rams.
“In Smith, Pauly and Nading, we got the defensive player of the year from three states – Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado,” Lubick said. “That’s a pretty impressive note.”
With pending vacancies on the line and in the linebacking corps within the next two years, Lubick said it was key to find athletes to fill those gaps.
“We feel we’ve got a solid group of linebackers who will be the next generation for us,” Lubick said. “Those guys are going to have to be able ready to step in a year from now.”
Rams look for Colorado, California recruits
As it had done in the past, the CSU coaches recruited heavily in Colorado and California. On the current team roster, the vast majority of players come from those two states, and in this year’s class 11 players hail from California and five are from Colorado.
“We try to get eight or nine players from Colorado, which should be easy to do in a class of 25, but there’s always down years,” Lubick said. “In Colorado there were only about 20 to 25 Division I players this year.”
Three Colorado recruits come from the suburban Denver area, while two are from Highlands Ranch, including Morse, whom Lubick said will be a “special player.” The lone quarterback recruit, Casey Hansen, is one of the eleven California recruits and he will jump right into the mix as the Rams’ third-string quarterback behind Bradlee Van Pelt and Justin Holland.
Taking on the big boys
For the CSU coaches, recruiting in these areas means competing with schools from the major conferences that dominate the region: the Big 12 and the Pacific-10. A recruiting battle between a school from one of those conferences and a school from a mid-major conference like the Mountain West is most often won by the major conference team.
However, CSU has been able to dip into those areas and successfully lure recruits away from Pac-10 and Big 12 teams.
The one recruit still on the fence is Chase Weber, a defensive back from Euless, Texas, who is choosing between CSU and Big 10 power Iowa. He is a prime example of the Rams competing with the big boys for recruits.
“You hold you’re breath when they (recruits) go visit Wisconsin or Oregon or Oklahoma,” Lubick said. “Almost every kid on this list had an opportunity with a Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-10 school. Ten or 12 years ago when we went to those schools that were supposed to be in a better league, I said we didn’t have the guys to match up with them. Now I know we do.”
Lubick said that one recruit in particular, Darryl Williams, a wide receiver/defensive back recruit from Anaheim, Calif., asked for one more trip to the University of Oregon before he decided to become a Ram. But CSU defensive line coach Tom Ehlers said that the program is an easy sell to recruits who are deciding between a major-conference school and CSU.
“Our exposure has helped us and kids know who we are,” Ehlers said. “We win a lot, we have a unique atmosphere and a family atmosphere. We sell Fort Collins and Colorado and, of course, we win championships. Those are always nice.”
Class of 2003
Nick Allotta OL/DL 6-4 275 Fr. San Diego, Calif. (Rancho Bernardo)
Chuck Asioudu DL 6-2 255 Jr. Chino Hills, Calif. (Mt. SAC)
Ciarre Campbell WR/DB 6-2 180 Fr. Aurora, Colo. (Denver South)
Greg Chatman WR 6-2 185 Fr. Carson, Calif. (Carson)
Dan Crews OL 6-4 295 Fr. Las Vegas, Nev. (Las Vegas)
Adam Gabriel RB/LB 6-0 230 Fr. Monrovia, Calif. (Monrovia)
Casey Hansen QB 6-5 200 Fr. Norco, Calif. (Norco)
George Hill WR/DB 6-0 175 Fr. Corona, Calif. (Corona)
Jim Kaylor P 6-2 215 Fr. Northglenn, Colo. (Northglenn)
Liddon Levine DB 5-11 175 Fr. Oakland, Calif. (Skyline)
Zach Morse LB 6-3 225 Fr. Highlands Ranch, Colo. (Dakota Ridge)
Jesse Nading DL 6-5 210 Fr. Highlands Ranch, Colo. (ThunderRidge)
John Nichols II LB/TE 6-2 210 Fr. Bellflower, Calif. (Bellflower)
Nathan Pauly LB 6-2 215 Fr. Conway Springs, Kan. (Conway Springs)
Luke Roberts WR/DB 6-2 190 Fr. Golden, Colo. (Golden)
Erik Sandie OL/DL 6-2 260 Fr. Concord, Calif. (De La Salle Catholic)
Blake Smith DL 6-2 245 Fr. Tulsa, Okla. (Union)
Justin Tyler OL 6-7 320 Fr. Glendale, Ariz. (Ironwood)
Bob Vomhof LB 6-3 245 Fr. Gillette, Wyo. (Campbell County)
John Walker WR/DB 6-0 180 Fr. Lancaster, Calif. (Antelope Valley)
Chase Weber DB 5-11 155 Fr. Euless, Texas (Trinity)
Darryl Williams WR/DB 5-11 180 Fr. Anaheim, Calif. (Servite)